3 rules for bridging digital trust gap in real estate

Answer consumers' questions to earn their loyalty

Do you believe everything you read on the Internet? Probably not. To say it’s a jungle is maybe the biggest understatement of the 21st century. Marketing to online buyers and sellers does not guarantee that you are earning their trust — or their business. Emerging from the sea of online search results is only the first step in online marketing.

The real estate industry has done an excellent job of building awareness about the advantages and importance of having an online presence. Keeping your profiles updated and accurate and collecting online reviews from satisfied clients are best practices that you should already be doing. By following basic best practices, you are already benefiting from your online marketing efforts in one way or another.

But I would like to talk about breaking through the basics and taking your online traffic, reputation, trust-building skills and lead conversion to the next level.

Rule 1: Shape your digital battlefield.

Shaping your battlefield means that you stake out your position and protect your digital farm online. What weapons do you need to establish a foothold and protect your digital estate? First, you need a platform from which you can share your local knowledge, experience and expertise online.

One example of a high-profile digital position is to write a real estate column for your local newspaper’s website. Online news sites are always looking for local, timely and relevant content. And if you have an opportunity to publish your expertise in both the print edition and the online edition, that’s a big win-win!

If you want to take this strategy to yet another level, commit to building your personal fortress, also known as a hyperlocal blog. I say blog, and not website, because the message you deliver through your blog must establish you as an authority in your field. Having only generic information on your site that you rarely update is not going to give you the competitive advantage we are talking about here.

Once you’ve identified where you are going to build your library of experience and expertise, let’s explore ways to get that message in front of the right people.

Rule 2: Communicate online as though your client is sitting across the table from you.

Before online marketing, we advertised our services using print media, signs, direct mail or some other method. Your message was confined to the space and the medium’s exposure.

Inbound marketing in today’s world is much more intimate, interactive and personal than that. Instead of hoping that your prospect runs into your advertisement, your value proposition is now being discovered by online consumers who want answers to specific questions and information about specific topics.

You cannot think about your online marketing the same way you do print messaging. Online, your goal as a marketer is to create conversations with potential homebuyers and sellers. When you share your experience and expertise through an article or video, you are starting a conversation with the person receiving this message.

Approach your online marketing not as an impersonal broadcast of vague generalities, but as a conversation with someone you already know, love and respect. I always write as though I am trying to explain a particular topic or idea to my parents. By developing this mindset, you will deliver your message with more empathy and explain things in a way that truly is in the best interest of the reader.

If you sat across the table from a prospective client and only talked about yourself, not allowing your guest to get a word in edgewise, what kind of impression do you think that would make? If you come off as being too self-consumed, your chances of making a personal connection and having an actual conversation are small.

Rule 3: Keep a professional diary.

Unless you are in our business and have walked 10,000 miles in our shoes, there is no way the average consumer can grasp the complexity of what we do for a living. For many years before social media, scarcity of information was a competitive advantage for many of us. Being the most well-known in your community meant that you were most likely the go-to person when anyone had a question about real estate.

As educated and empowered consumers, we have the luxury today to anonymously find answers to any question we can ask. The biggest challenge that consumers face today is not a lack of information, but rather too much information — and they have no way to know how accurate that information is. To stand out from the noise of an online search, you must build a bridge to cover the trust gap that we all face when trying to get a straight answer online.

Don’t be selfish. By sharing your local knowledge, professional expertise and life experience, you begin to bridge that trust gap one step at a time. This is your professional diary. When consumers find you online, what do they see? Was your last blog post published in 2009? Are they reading your personal advice in your own, genuine voice, or is it generic information that anyone can find anywhere on the Internet?

Keeping a professional diary is as easy as taking a couple of hours once a week to share an experience or a story about a challenge you’ve overcome during a transaction. If you are an active agent, you are constantly asked, “How’s the market?” If you spend a couple of hours to write a detailed review of last month’s local real estate market, any visitor to your site will be able to find the answer to that question, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Another advantage of keeping a professional online diary is that you now have a library of current, well-considered answers to questions that most buyers have. By publishing your journal online, you can easily share this information with any prospect or client, and they can, in turn, share your local expertise and experience with others.

When a consumer visits your website or reads your column in the local newspaper, you are being judged by the character of your content. Now I’m going to ask you to visit your website and tell me: Are you trustworthy?

Scott Schang is a branch manager at Broadview Mortgage in Long Beach, California.